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01.05.09

The Mob Did It (We Think)

A new book on the JFK assassination adds credence to the theory that the mafia was at the center of the president's murder.

The question won’t go away: Was President John F. Kennedy killed by a lone, crazed gunman serendipitously acting out his bizarre fantasy? Or were more sinister forces at work, manipulating or taking advantage of Oswald’s act of regicide? Why hasn’t the United States government opened all the records that illuminate this historic question?

A new book by the long-time assassination researchers Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann adds some new information to the legitimate accumulating literature. Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination delves into the murder of JFK in over 800 pages of intricately documented data. It expands on their earlier Ultimate Sacrifice, which analyzed thousands of pages of released classified documents. Their findings add pieces to one of our most perplexing puzzles, and suggest where the key missing pieces may be found.

In their new book, Waldron and Hartmann report that our government had a secret plan for a high Cuban insider to kill Fidel Castro on December 1, 1963—just days after JFK was assassinated.

The Warren Commission Report assured the world that a lone and aberrant gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, shot the president from a hidden perch in a now infamous book depository building in Dallas. With the stunning slaying of Oswald soon thereafter while in custody by a pseudo-patriotic, second rate Dallas hoodlum, Jack Ruby, it seemed the horrifying tragedy was ended.

But in 1966, Edward Jay Epstein’s Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth seriously challenged the single bullet thesis of the Warren Commission, leading to the conclusion that Oswald was not acting alone. Inquest did not resolve who acted with him, though speculations—then and now—abound about contemporaneous gunshots from a nearby grassy knoll.

The famous Zapruder film of the shooting (I’ve seen the full original because my former law partner was the family’s representative handling its licensing) provides graphic and commanding corroboration of Epstein’s conclusion.

In 1974, a U. S. Senate Select Committee (the Church Committee) disclosed shocking misconduct by the CIA and the U.S. government’s aborted plans to use mafia figures (Sam Giancana and Johnny Rosselli, both later killed by the mob) to kill Fidel Castro. In 1979, the U. S. House of Representatives Assassinations Committee unearthed troubling new wiretap evidence, concluding that 1) Oswald did not act alone; and 2) that Jimmy Hoffa, Carlos Marcello, and Santos Trafficante, Jr. had the motive, means, and opportunity to plan and execute the assassination of JFK, setting up Oswald as a patsy.

Case Closed (1993) by Gerald Posner, analyzed the accumulating evidence critical of the Warren Commission report and concluded, as the general American public seemed to hope, that Oswald acted alone and that the Warren Commission’s fundamental conclusion was correct. Vincent Bugliosi’s 1,600-page Reclaiming History (2007) supported Posner’s conclusion.

My book, Perfect Villains, Imperfect Heroe: Robert F. Kennedy’s War Against Organized Crime, attempted to demonstrate that the case should not be closed and that the House Assassinations Committee had it right, though certain critical documentation of its position was unavailable. Drawing on incriminating tapped phone conversations, new literature and investigations, and Trafficante’s lawyer’s 1994 memoir (Frank Ragano’s Mob Lawyer), I concluded that the assassination was generated by Jimmy Hoffa. Oswald was, as he claimed, a patsy. It was a mob touch to use someone to carry out their deadly assignments, and then to kill that person to avoid detection.

As the century ended, a congressionally mandated Assassination Records Review Commission opened some classified records, but many critical records, in the United States and in Cuba, remain secret to this day.

In their new book, Waldron and Hartmann report that our government had a secret plan for a high Cuban insider (named in their new book) to kill Fidel Castro on December 1, 1963—just days after JFK was assassinated. It would be followed by an invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles aided by the U. S. military. It was managed off the books by Robert Kennedy and a select group of government officials and the military. The mafia learned of it, and after its furtive, aborted plans to kill Kennedy weeks earlier in Chicago and Tampa failed, they arranged for him to be killed in Texas, knowing that our government could not disclose these facts without admitting its own provocative plans and endangering worldwide retaliation. It was, assassination expert Jefferson Morley quipped in The Washington Post, “a deus ex mafia”.

Waldron’s and Hartmann’s new revelations in Legacy of Secrecy add newly released government recordings of Carlos Marcello in prison, claiming to have arranged the assassination. Trafficante’s and Rosselli’s attorneys both have reported that their clients claimed responsibility for the assassination. Along with Marcello’s confession, and credible information that has eked out from mentioned sources, the evidence points to a conspiracy case that could go to a jury—were the parties alive.

Interviews with Kennedy aide Dave Powers, who rode close behind the president in the fatal motorcade, disclosed that he saw and heard evidence of shots from the grassy knoll, and that he was subject to “intense pressure to get him to change his testimony ‘for the good of the country’.” Presidential assistant Kenneth O’Donnell agreed. Later sound, visual, and medical studies—persuasive but controverted—confirm their and other on-the-scene observers’ opinions, and the Edward Epstein thesis.

The Waldron-Hartmann books suggest why the grieving Attorney General and the powerful government authorities at the time failed to aggressively pursue all leads based on the government’s prior dealing with the mob. Robert Kennedy could not pursue them because his own misconduct would have come to light, and knowledge of it would have had serious foreign policy implications. Those few investigative officials who knew of the critical facts had every reason to hide them.

The Warren Commission relied in its investigation on the obvious investigating authorities at the time, the FBI and CIA. Both agencies, especially the CIA, had intramural interests for dissembling and hiding the true facts. Lyndon Johnson later questioned that conclusion, his aides reported. RFK told aides he would pursue the true facts when he became president.

A German documentary film, Rendezvous With Death, included an interview with a former Cuban secret service agent who said the Cuban Secret Service was responsible for the JFK assassination, using Oswald as its hired gun. After Fidel Castro is out of power, Cuban records—if they exist—could corroborate that story. Castro told an AP reporter days before the Kennedy assassination that he knew plans were afoot to assassinate him and that if the US pursued those plans—plans we know did exist, and which Waldron-Hartmann books document—our president’s life would be in danger. Days later that scenario played out. An American agent met a Cuban Castro assassin in Paris, and our president was shot.

The Waldron-Hartmann books do not resolve the case. Many more government records remain to be released. It is now nearly a half century later, and there is no good reason not to release the voluminous secret records which may clarify the important, continuing mystery behind this epic American tragedy. Hopefully, the new Obama administration will open all these records as part of its proclaimed policy of openness and transparency. Hiding information always raises suspicions. Open information policies are more likely to lead to truthful conclusions. It is time the world knew every bit of available information about the assassination of JFK.

Ronald Goldfarb is a veteran Washington, D.C., attorney, author and literary agent who worked in the Department of Justice as a special assistant to Robert F. Kennedy in the organized crime and racketeering section, and as a speechwriter for Kennedy’s Senate campaign in New York. He has written 11 books and 300 articles in addition to numerous op-eds and reviews (see www.RonaldGoldfarb.com).